Unhoused Portlanders sue city, say camping ban violates state law, constitution

A group of unhoused Portland residents and advocates filed a class action lawsuit against the City of Portland Friday
Published: Sep. 29, 2023 at 5:23 PM PDT|Updated: Sep. 29, 2023 at 10:38 PM PDT
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PORTLAND Ore. (KPTV) - A group of unhoused Portland residents and advocates filed a class action lawsuit against the City of Portland Friday, requesting an injunction to stop enforcement of a camping ban.

The unhoused Portlanders and advocates claim that people who live outside will suffer irreparable harm if the ordinance, effective since July 7, is enforced.


City ordinance 4A.50.020 “Camping Prohibited on Public Property and Public Rights-of-Way,” prohibits all camping near schools as well as near a range of green spaces, pedestrian walkways, construction sites and more. In places where people are permitted to camp, they must “dismantle” their camp and pack all belongings between 8 a.m. and 8 p.m. All fires, gas and flame-powered heaters are banned.

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According to court documents filed by the Oregon Law Center, the plaintiffs allege the ordinance violates Oregon law, which requires that any local laws or regulations that limit how and where people may sleep or keep warm and dry outdoors “must be objectively reasonable as to time, place and manner with regards to persons experiencing homelessness.”

The documents claim that not only is the ordinance unreasonable due to a lack of affordable housing, shelter beds and long waitlists for housing vouchers, the ban is also far too broad. They claim it does not clarify what is and is not considered a campsite, does not include any direction on where camping is allowed at night, and does not define who is “involuntarily homeless,” nor how police would make such a determination while enforcing the ban.

Ed Johnson, a lawyer with the Oregon Law Center, said in a statement that the ordinance is cruel and unreasonable.

“It is a huge step in the wrong direction,” Johnson said. “We need to solve homelessness. Instead of focusing on proven solutions like more affordable supportive housing, rent assistance and tenant protections, this ordinance makes it a crime to be homeless. It criminalizes the people have already been left out and punishes them with jail and fines for simply trying to survive.”

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The plaintiffs also allege that the ordinance violates the Oregon Constitution, “because it imposes fines and jail time upon plaintiffs for engaging in conduct that they cannot avoid – sitting, lying down, sleeping, staying safe, warm and dry.” The lawsuit documents state that enforcing jail time and fines for the offense of camping would be “wildly disproportionate.”

The lawsuit demands a trial by jury and asks for a permanent injunction to stop enforcement of the ordinance, a declaration that the ordinance violates the state constitution and reasonable attorney fees.

A City of Portland spokesperson gave the following statement when contacted by FOX 12 for comment:

“We are unable to comment on pending litigation. The City of Portland remains focused on education and outreach efforts with the intention of starting enforcement in the coming weeks. The City will provide two weeks’ notice to the community before enforcement begins.”